March 28 – Day 168 – Expect another close one

Only four games are on today’s schedule, but there’s at least a couple stellar matchups to be seen!

First up is Florida at Toronto (SN/TVAS) at 7:30 p.m., followed half an hour later by the New York Rangers at Washington (NBCSN). Finally, our co-nightcaps – Arizona at Vegas and Philadelphia at Colorado – drop the puck at 10 p.m. to close out the night’s action. All times Eastern.

Originally, I had marked the Rangers-Capitals game as a potential featured matchup, but their rivalry has nothing on the importance of tonight’s showdown in Ontario. To Hogtown!

 

 

 

 

 

As you’d expect from a team that’s been in playoff position for basically the entire season, the 45-24-7 Maple Leafs have been a tough out lately. They’ve posted a solid 6-2-0 record over their past eight showings, due in large part to sporting the second-best attack in both the Eastern Conference and the NHL in that time.

Toronto has been as close to unstoppable as a team can get with its 4.13 goals per game since March 10. A total of five players have averaged at least a point per game over that stretch, but none have been as impressive as LW James van Riemsdyk and his 8-3-11 totals in eight outings, improving his season numbers to 34-18-52.

There’s little to argue considering van Riemsdyk has personally scored 24.2 percent of the Leafs’ last 33 goals, but his effort has been even more impressive considering the almost constant carousel of linemates he’s had to play with. In total, JVR has gotten on the scorecard with goals or assists from a total of six different forwards in his past eight games (three different forwards on the power play and five at even-strength).

In particular, van Riemsdyk has gelled especially well with C Tyler Bozak and F Mitch Marner – two of the players joining him in averaging at least a point per game since March 10. Even with a seemingly revolving door at the right wing position, Bozak has been van Riemsdyk’s constant center and has three primary assists to prove it. Meanwhile, Marner has also found success when he’s added to the mix on the power play, adding three more assists of his own.

In total, van Riemsdyk, Marner (2-9-11 totals since March 10, 20-45-65 overall), D Morgan Rielly (0-10-10 since March 10, 6-42-48 overall), Bozak (1-7-8 since March 10, 11-30-41 overall) and C Auston Matthews (1-2-3 in his three games since returning from injury, 29-24-53 overall) make up Toronto’s most consistent scoring threats during this run.

If two men can will their team to the playoffs, it has to be the 39-28-7 Panthers’ starting goaltender 15-10-2 Roberto Luongo and backup 20-13-5 James Reimer. Since March 19, Florida has posted a 4-1-0 record, and Luongo and Reimer have been a big part of it.

Florida’s goaltending is the focus tonight, and for good reason: without them, the Panthers would yield so many goals to that elite Toronto offense. After all, Florida’s defense has allowed an average of 31.2 opposing shots on goal during this five-game run, good enough for only (t)14th-best in the NHL in that time.

However, Luongo and Reimer have played marvelously despite that adversity, combining to allow only 1.6 goals against per game since March 19, the best mark in the Eastern Conference and third-best in the NHL in that time.

In his past two starts, Luongo has managed an impressive .95 save percentage and 1.51 GAA, marks eclipsed only by Reimer’s .958 save percentage and 1.33 GAA in his past three outings.

With lowly Ottawa on the schedule tomorrow night, Luongo will be in the crease this evening looking to improve his .927 season save percentage and associated 2.55 GAA.

The Panthers have so much more to gain from a victory tonight than the Leafs do its not even funny.

As things stand going into tonight’s action, the Devils have a three-point advantage on the Panthers for the Eastern Conference’s second wild card. With tonight’s tilt being one of the two games in hand Florida has on Jersey, the Panthers have to earn at least one point (two would obviously be preferable) to maintain control of their own destiny.

Meanwhile, Toronto is just sitting back and twiddling its fingers in anticipation of the playoffs. After all, the Bruins have all but locked up home ice in the first round considering they have a game in hand to go with their eight-point lead on the Leafs for second place, and Toronto has a 12-point advantage on tonight’s opponent for third. At this point, the Maple Leafs’ main goal is getting healthy and staying focused on their goal of advancing to the second round for the first time since 2004.

This has been a close matchup all season, to the point that even though the Panthers have two victories to the Leafs’ one, the clubs have earned an equal four points in tilts against each other.

Game 1 between these sides occurred way back on November 22 at BB&T Center. Led by F Nick Bjugstad, who scored Florida’s lone regulation goal as well as the game-winner in the shootout, the Panthers won that game 2-1.

Games 2 and 3 took place within a week of each other. Toronto hosted the first of those on February 20, winning 1-0 on the back of 35-20-5 G Frederik Andersen‘s 40-save performance and van Riemsdyk’s first period goal. Seven days later, the Maple Leafs and Panthers were back at it in Sunrise, where Florida took a 3-2 victory courtesy of C Jared McCann‘s overtime game-winner.

Florida has proven it can hang with the mighty Leafs so far this season, but can it perform in light of the added pressure of this playoff run? I’m leaning towards Toronto taking two points tonight, but this might be yet another matchup between these clubs that requires more than 60 minutes.


It took overtime, but the St. Louis Blues snapped the San Jose Sharks’ eight-game winning streak with a 3-2 victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Scottrade Center.

This game was all about the Blues responding to adversity, as they did not lead for a single second until scoring their game-winning goal.

That adversity started 6:26 into the game when LW Evander Kane (F Melker Karlsson and D Brent Burns) buried a wrist shot to give the Sharks a 1-0 advantage. Though it didn’t respond immediately, St. Louis did eventually find its leveling goal 11:17 later courtesy of an C Oskar Sundqvist (D Colton Parayko and Second Star of the Game D Vince Dunn) wrister.

With D Joel Edmundson in the penalty box for hooking RW Timo Meier at the 6:21 mark of the second period, San Jose reclaimed a one-goal advantage when F Joe Pavelski (Burns) potted a power play tip-in after only 46 seconds with the man-advantage. However, First Star RW Vladimir Tarasenko (F Brayden Schenn and D Alex Pietrangelo) was able to return the favor with 7:57 remaining in the frame, scoring a power play wrister 58 seconds after Meier tripped him to earn a seat of his own in the sin bin. Tarasenko’s marker leveled the game once again at 2-2.

Both defenses performed incredibly in the third period. St. Louis limited the Sharks to only seven shots on goal, while San Jose allowed only nine Blues attempts. Between those 16 offerings, none got by G Jake Allen or G Aaron Dell, meaning the tilt advanced into the five-minute three-on-three overtime period.

Tarasenko (F Vladimir Sobotka) needed just over half the overtime period – three seconds more, to be precise – to find the game-winner for the Notes.

The play started with a face-off at the dot to Dell’s right. Though Pavelski was able to win the draw with a little help from W Mikkel Boedker, who proceeded to take the puck into the trapezoid behind his goal, an efficient forecheck by Sobotka resulted in him ending up with possession and moving towards the right post. Having attacked the trapezoid to help Sobotka win the puck, Tarasenko was busy getting above the goal line and setting up shop outside the crease near the left goal post, meaning all Sobotka had to do was backhand a quick pass through the crease to Tarasenko to set him up for an easy wrister to win the game, the Blues’ fourth overtime victory in their past six outings.

Allen earned the victory after saving 22-of-24 shots faced (.917 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Dell, who saved 29-of-32 (.906).

Hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series have now earned points in six-consecutive tilts, not to mention winning four in a row. As such, home teams now have a 94-53-21 record that is 39 points better than the roadies’.